Israel’s highest court heard arguments Wednesday in a challenge to a major element in the country’s intensive airline security system: ethnic profiling.
The Associated Press (AP) reports the country’s Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), a mainstream advocacy group, filed the petition last May with Israel’s Supreme Court against its Airports Authority, Transportation Ministry, and General Security Services.
According to an ACRI statement, non-Jewish air travelers, especially Arabs, are “subject to stringent, invasive, annoying, and lengthy security checks."
ACRI further claims:
“…Jewish passengers and anyone else passing by can clearly watch as security personnel remove and pick through intimate articles contained in the baggage of Arab travelers. The usual attitude of the workers while performing these checks is harsh and offensive, and it is sometimes accompanied by racist epithets or verbal threats.”
While racial or ethnic profiling is illegal and considered unconstitutional in the United States, it is a widely accepted security practice in Israel, which faces constant and immediate threat of terrorist attack.
Israel's airlines have not suffered a successful terrorist attack in decades. Elements of the country's innovative security regimen—including the less controversial practice of behavioral profiling—have been implemented by Western agencies including the U.S. Transportation Security Administration.
In Jerusalem, the AP’s Matti Friedman wrote that Wednesday’s proceedings occurred in closed session, while plaintiffs, including representatives from Ben Gurion Airport, would not comment afterward.
Israeli terrorism expert Ariel Merari told the AP that profiling will endure in Israel’s airports because it works:
"It's foolishness not to use profiles when you know that most terrorists come from certain ethnic groups and certain age groups," (Merari) said. "A bomber on a plane is likely to be Muslim and young, not an elderly Holocaust survivor. We're talking about preventing a lot of casualties, and that justifies inconveniencing a certain ethnic group."
The case’s next hearing is scheduled for May.